Mark Blundell: There’s no easy open door for Daniel Ricciardo return to F1 grid

Thomas Maher
Daniel Ricciardo climbs in his car, serious face. Austin October 2022

Daniel Ricciardo climbs in his McLaren, serious face, with his helmet on the car's nose. Austin October 2022

Daniel Ricciardo will have to do plenty of work to try to secure a return to the F1 grid in 2024, according to Mark Blundell.

The Australian is without a seat in Formula 1 for 2023, having been bought out of the third year of his McLaren contract after two seasons of underperformance with the Woking squad.

Ricciardo’s options for a race seat for this season appeared few, with rumours linking him with Haas and Williams. But, ultimately, Ricciardo never appeared to be a serious contender for a cockpit this year and, instead, made it clear he was choosing a year on the sidelines after taking a mental battering during his tough years with McLaren.

Having raced with Red Bull from 2014 until 2018, having previously been a Red Bull junior and Toro Rosso driver, Ricciardo has returned to the Red Bull fold as a third/reserve driver for 2023. But, with Sergio Perez under contract for the next two seasons, Ricciardo’s chances of sliding in alongside Max Verstappen as a team-mate any time soon appear quite slim.

Mark Blundell: It’ll be tough for Daniel Ricciardo

While Ricciardo’s current situation appears more akin to a voluntary sabbatical than a forced withdrawal from the sport, Mark Blundell believes the Australian may find it more difficult than returning World Champions like Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen did – although Nico Hulkenberg’s return after three years for 2023 may give Ricciardo some comfort.

Speaking about the situation with PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview, the 1992 Le Mans winner and former Brabham, Tyrrell, Ligier, and McLaren racer pointed out that Ricciardo may find it far more difficult to return to the grid than he might expect.

“I’m not sure that the situation is that he wanted to stay away, I think there’s maybe a bigger story behind whether, firstly, the seat was available to him,” Blundell said.

“Secondly, was it actually viable for him to go and get on the grid? It may be a team that wasn’t going to be as strong as what he would like. Sitting out the year comfortably, yes, okay, it gives him some downtime. But, I think it’s still going to be quite hard for him to pick himself up and get back on the grid again in a team that he will feel is deserving of what he needs performance-wise.

“He’s got to do the work, I don’t think it’s going to be an open door for him to come back on the grid easily, he’s gonna have to prove himself and work at it.”

Why did the Daniel Ricciardo/McLaren partnership fail to gel?

On paper, armed with a competitive McLaren as team-mate Lando Norris was consistently able to prove, Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren should have been a strong partnership.

But, right from the start of their cooperation, Ricciardo failed to deliver strong results in the same manner as Norris, aside from a marked improvement towards the tail end of 2021 with a famous victory in Monza.

Asked for his thoughts about why McLaren and Ricciardo couldn’t figure out how to get the best of each other, Blundell said it was a partnership that never seemed to quite work out.

“Looking at it from the outside, I just don’t know whether the actual glue was there in terms of Ricciardo being in McLaren and understanding how it operates,” he said.

“Maybe both parties not getting the best out of each other.

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“Possibly there was a little bit of a situation where his style of driving just wasn’t suited to the car because you could see that there was quite some difference at times between him and Lando. But, at the same point, I just don’t think it really ever sort of gelled. The combination looked good on paper, but I’m not sure that actually delivered in reality. It never quite delivered what we all expected.

“Sometimes personalities don’t quite align, I mean focus and outlook doesn’t quite get to the point that it should. Sometimes drivers are at different points in their career, and maybe they feel that they don’t need to do some of the extra workload to carry the team to the next level.

“Sometimes a team maybe expect more and don’t get it and that’s a disappointment. I mean, there are several things that go out in such a way that the relationship starts to dwindle.

“I think, looking at Lando and the first season with Lando, maybe he was a little bit relaxed and joking around. Everything was a little bit of fun. But, the second season, you saw him knuckle down and get focused, and that showed in his performance – he took a big step forward. And I think that also caught Daniel out. That was also a little bit of stress in the system from very early on, and he never quite came back to fight head-on. It happens. We’ve seen it time and time again, but it’s always difficult to put the finger on why.”

Might Daniel Ricciardo secure an F1 return in the future?

With Ricciardo’s options apparently limited, and his most recent two Formula 1 seasons largely being damp squibs, Blundell believes the influx of younger drivers rising through the ranks, such as Ricciardo’s replacement Oscar Piastri, may spell the death knell for Ricciardo’s top-flight career.

Asked whether he’d be willing to put a bet on a return for Ricciardo, Blundell mused: “You’ve got new talent coming in the system. If that new talent performs well, then it always opens up eyes in the pit lane, in other areas.

“Will he get enough mileage in a car and enough opportunity for people to reflect and say ‘no, he’s still got what it takes’ and put him back in the car again for next season?

“It’s 50/50 as far as I’m concerned. Would I put a bet on it? Probably not. But at the same point, there’s work to be done on Daniel’s side to get himself back into a Formula 1 car, and back at the front of the grid. He’s been there, and it’s not easy to start going the other way.”